Sunday, April 22, 2007


I went back the next day to the last sangoma to continue my medical tourism for my knee. She boiled up some traditional herbs and put them in a 2 liter pop bottle for me to drink. So currently I am drinking half a glass of earth-tasting water per day to try and make my knee better.

Friday, April 20, 2007


I spent this past week in Zweletemba, a black township outside of Worcester, South Africa. I turned 21 at a table prepared by three amazing black South African women who, even though we had known each other for about 2 hours, had a bottle of champagne to celebrate me with. There was also mashed potatoes, dad, you know I was happy! The whole week was really just an incredible experience that is impossible to tie up neatly in one blog entry. Instead, I will just recount one day in the life of Jessica in Zweletemba. For a bit of context, Zweletemba is centered in the boland region full of large, breath-taking mountains, and gorgeous wine vineyards.
"I began the day geared toward my need to get out into the indescribable beauty that surrounds this place. After waiting for an hour and half for the transport to arrive, 17 of us piled into a taxi and eventually found something of a trail behind a small campground and vineyard. The trail quickly dissipated into us scrambling up a steep hillside covered in prickly bushes and shrubs leaving me covered in scrapes and scratches... all well worth it. At the top we took in the sights, layed in the sun, listened to music, and relaxed. The way back down was a bit more troubling for me, lots of falls, but all was well. I was hoping for a glass of wine at the bottom, but I had to get back to the township to carry on with the adventures of this day. Nikki, my friend, was asking our mom about sangomas in the area. Sangomas are traditional healers. This led to us going on a very involved "sangoma hunt". At the first house we went to the sangoma was out of town. Quickly we realized that we shouldn't fear--there is a sangoma at every street corner (later we learned for a young boy that Zweletemba is a unique township in that it is particularly witch-infested, thus the need for lots of sangomas). The next sangoma we visited was too tired and told us to come back later. The next one we met chatted with our hose moms for a while and then said she would take us to the place where a lot of sangomas congregate. We then wandered around Mandela square, an slum part of the township. There we met another sangoma who was extremely stern and simply pointed onward. At the end of the hunt we arrived at a house with about 10 sangomas who were participating in a ceremony for a novice sangoma. It was absolutely surreal. We were welcomed into the room that was clearly busting at its seams. Two women created a small opening between their bodacious butts for me to plop into. When all the sangomas began singing and dancing in a circle I was filled with tingles and chills. The woman who was being initiated was probably around 30. We learned that she had been really sick and went to a traditional healer. The healer said that her ancestors were beckoning her to be a sangoma. This coincided with dreams she was having. Once she accepted the calling, she was healed. This is pretty much the same story for every sangoma we have met or heard of. I think it is so incredibly fascinating. That is their truth. It is 100% real. Why don't my ancestors call me to do things?
After the sangoma hunt, we came back home and cooked a feast that ended up feeding 16 people! One of my roommates is Indian-American, so we made tandoori chicken, potato curry, lemon rice, bread pudding, and good ol American chocolate chip cookies. Everyone thoroughly enjoyed it, and it felt so good to give something back to this absolutely beautiful family that has given us so much. It is so nice to really be in a community. After the never-ending feast, we went back to the first sangoma who had dressed up so that we could take pictures of her posing with her certificates. What a day!"

Now I am back in Cape Town living in the Bo Kaap district. It is beautiful and once again I have an amazing family. I finally have kids in my family (three girls, 11, 7, and 2). It is great fun. There is only 3 weeks left on this crazy adventure. Thanks for following through it all with me!

Thursday, April 5, 2007

The sun sets on Beijing

It's April. It's my last night in Beijing. I do not know where to possibly begin. I have loved the Beijing portion of this program. Why, you might ask. Has Jessica become a city girl who loves pollution? I do not think that is the case. More so I just feel like my life and the program have coalesced more throughout this past month. Ah, I am leaving China in a much different place than I was in when I left India and I am pondering much different things. I would say that India was harder for me on the whole, but it was so necessary for this trip. I am really coming to realize that even if things are not as I expect them to be or even if I miss 99 out of 100 opportunities to learn and grow in a day, what I do get matters. I am also realizing that everything I am doing in India, China, and soon South Africa, I can do back at home. Health, culture, and globalization are so integral to life everywhere on this planet and I am excited to apply my knowledge or at least my intrigue in my own backyard... And hopefully figure out what to do my senior thesis on!!!
Let us discuss some of the things I did and sites I saw while in China:
THE GREAT WALL...twice! The first time I went to the restored portion in all its glory. The view reminded me of every East Asian landscape painting... except that there was a long, yellow, winding slide that saved my knees from the walk down. That's right, I slid off of the Great wall of china. The second time I climbed the wall was just a few days ago during our visit to the "New Socialist Countryside" where everyone was named Mao--seriously. We met Mr. Mao, then Dr. Mao, then Mr. Mao the chestnut farmer, and a million mrs. Maos! It was absolutely beautiful. We climbed an unrestored section dating back to the Qin dynasty (220 BC). The Cherry blossom trees were blooming, the sun was shining, and all out work had been turned in. It was a killer for the knee, but totally worth it. YOu may still at this point be hung up on my brief intro to the New Socialist Countryside--basically its a village that used to all farmers, but now they have cold theis land and used money to build guest houses on their homes so that rich Beijingers can breath fresh air for a weekend, and definitely for all those Olympics tourists that Beijing is vigorously preparing for-- we learned that there are more construction sites in Beijing than in all of EUrope! IT all felt a bit strange to me, especially with all the Maos, but it was a good time. Everyone we talked to in the village stressed how much better things are now than when they were farming and poor. Critical jessica wanted to push further. What about the loss of tradition and culture? But, then again, maybe it really is better now. I find myself at times romanticizing traditional culture and livelihoods and feeling sorrow for any person who has been corrupted by globalization. I think the truth of the matter lies somewhere between the two extremes. It is good and bad. ANd it is happening. FOODI love chinese food. I have eaten well... too well. I always heard in the states that real Chinese food was different, but experiencing it first hand is amazing. My host dad was a chef, so I ate well there, and basically you cannot go wrong at any restaurant! I have decided that there are some entities here that need to come to the US ASAP. The beijing breakfast= a delicious crepe like thing with an egg, chives, parsley, fried rice cracker, spicy sauces, all folded up and thrown in a bag for a quick on the go snack or meal. They cost about 2-3 yuan (roughly 30-40 cents). I will truly miss them, perhaps more than I miss people. Other perks I love are fruit on a stick, meat on a stick, grilled sweet potatoes on the street, peking duck (not available on the street), peanut-sauce noodles and cucumbers in a bag, oh the list goes on. Come to Beijing and eat!!!
CASE STUDY WEEK This was the highlight of my time in Beijing. During this week we all stayed in a hotel and worked in groups of eight on various health-related issues. I was part of the One-Child Policy group. I cannot stress how important the week was for me. We traveled all about beijing, did lots of interviews, and even wrote a song for the only children for our presentation, and we really bonded with each other. I am so incredibly lucky. The experience was so great because I felt proud of what I was doing. It was the most exciting and tantalizing intellectual endeavour of this trip so far. My intial biases were challenged, and I was seriously forced to understand the one-child policy from both sides of the debate. It is a human rights violation. It also is necessary for population to be controlled. It is largely a norm of society at this point. But the social repurcussions are not fully being noted and examined. I would love to talk more about my feelings regarding this week any time!
Wow, this blog is getting long. There is just so much to say. I haven't even talked about the silk market, karaoke, banana, my amazing friends and crazy professors.. not to mention the loads of experiences from India. Ahhhh! Deep breath. I got a plane to catch to Africa tomorrow. We will be in a hostel for 2 days, I should be accessible then, but after that, on my birthday, we move into a township outside of Capetown for a bit more than a week. SO don't worry if I am not heard from! Wo Ai Ni ( i love you in Chinese) Zai Jian (goodbye in Chinese)